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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Opera Review: Don't Mess With the Princess!

The Metropolitan Opera Revives Aida...again.
Stephanie Blythe as Amneris.
Photo by Marty Sohl,
© 2012 The Metropolitan Opera.

Monday night at the Met featured the company's second performance of Aida this season, with a cast featuring Violeta Urmana in the title role, Stephanie Blythe as Amneris and tenor Marcelo Àlvarez as Radames.

This was a pretty good outing for Mr. Àlvarez, the Argentine tenor who has been a regular at the Met in the last decade. His voice remains two sizes too small for Radames, but he sang with musical intelligence, navigating the score's pitfalls like a careful explorer inside a pyramid.

Stephanie Blythe is likely to be this company's Amneris for a long time. And that is a good thing. The New York-bred mezzo diva is a formidable stage presence, with an instrument that can lay the smack-down on both Wagnerian Gods (James Morris, the Met's ex-Wotan was the priest Ramfis) and callow Egyptian generals. And she doesn't look totally ridiculous wearing a blue turkey on her head.

Ms. Blythe's big, flexible voice rides low, but is capable of navigating Amneris' mercurial temperament. She was potent in the early ensembles, and supremely bitchy in the Act II confrontaton scene. This was not a princess to mess with. The voice is powerful, and sometimes rides over  the orchestra and surrounding ensembles. 

Headgear aside, Ms. Blythe was at her best when given the stage to herself. This might have been the most interesting Act IV at this house in a long time. As she sang "L'aborrita rivale a me sfuggia", her rage was visceral, radiating from the stage in waves. Her subsequent scene with Mr. Àlvarez and diatribe against the priests brought down the house and stole the show.

Violeta Urmana had a mixed outing in the title role. She had some strong moments in the dramatic "Ritorna vincitar, and struck sparks in the Act II confrontation with Amneris. Also she could be heard singing to good effect in the big sextet and ensemble at the end of the Triumph in that act. 

Everything was fine until the Nile Scene and the famous aria "O Patria Mia." Then disaster struck in the middle of that famous number. 

It was right on the high note at the top of the words "O Patria Mia," a note that should be floated, not screamed. But right at that point, Ms. Urmana's voice compressed and hardened above the stave. The result: a piercing, ugly sound. Two more followed in the same manner. They all pulled sharp. There were three more of these in the duet with Amonasro and the trio that brought the act to a climax. She managed some redemption in the tomb scene when singing softly, but her voice continued to betray her under pressure.

Marco Armiliato is getting a lot of conducting work at the Met these days. But with underwhelming, sloppy first acts (the percussion was off in the temple scene) one wonders why. Crisper rhythms returned for the massive Triumph, but the onstage trumpeters, perched on the giant faux-Egyptian set, had trouble coming in on time. It looked like Ms. Blythe, standing next to them on the dais, was ready to give their cues.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.